Next Sunday will be the tenth game of the season, but the NFC playoff teams are already pretty much identifiable. The Giants and Eagles, the Falcons and Saints, the Packers, and the token representative of the NFC West. The Bears and Tampa are still in the hunt, but it would be more than a little surprising if either team hung around to the end.
If what we saw Monday night was not a fluke, the Eagles look awful dangerous right now. The butt whipping Mike Vick laid on Mike Shanahan Monday was the most lopsided game I can ever remember watching. And that says a lot, since I have watched every 49er game this century, many of which were serious beat downs. It was also extremely snickerful, since it came at the expense of Shanahan and Donovan McNabb, two characters often touted by the blog world critics as guys who would surely get the Niners to the promised land.
Ronnie Lott was famously quoted once as saying you didn’t know what kind of team you really had until the tenth game of the season. For him, that meant how far into the playoffs the Niners could expect to go. For the current team, it’s how far into the season they can still be even thinking about the playoffs.
It does seem like this Sunday’s game will tell us what kind of team we really have here, though. Unlike the Rams and Denver, Tampa has played winning football this year. They are 6-3 and a triumph over them would be the Niners first win this season over a team with a winning record. The Raiders have a winning record at the moment, but they didn’t when they played the Niners.
A win over Tampa would also be the Niners first three game winning streak since 2006. If Troy Smith can pull that off, you’d have to think maybe this kid is for real. The team itself would surely think so, at any rate, and they count more than we do.
The emergence of Smith and OC Mike Johnson might just be the most important, and least expected, developments of this 2010 season. Yesterday, Matt Barrows pointed out that the Rams, and presumably other teams, came into the game with the simple strategy of follow Mike Iupati and he would lead them to the ball. It’s good that Iupati has replaced Moran Norris as the man to watch, but it also indicates how predictable the Niners offense has been.
Johnson took advantage of that though by using Iupati as a decoy, with the play to Frank Gore going the opposite way that Iupati was going. It was a key in the overtime drive that led to the winning field goal. It also marks the first known instance in the Mike Singletary era of the Niners actually out-coaching another team.
As for Smith, if he turns out to be a meal ticket QB, no matter what happens this year, the impact on the Niner 2011 draft would be huge. Instead of needing to consider taking a QB in the first round, the team could focus on the glaring need for a shut down corner or a can’t miss (haha) pass rusher.
So, Sunday’s game has some serious importance to it, beyond whether we stay in the playoff race or kerplunk our way to another failed season. We do seem to have a bona fide OC in Johnson. Do we have a bona fide QB, too?